California fish conservation law could protect bees

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California’s Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed the state to consider protecting endangered bumblebees under a list of fish conservation laws.

The state high court refused to grant a review requested by farmer groups of a May appeals court ruling that allowed the California Fish and Game Commission to consider granting the endangered species protection to four types of bumblebees under a 1970 conservation law that included the term “invertebrates” under the definition of fish, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

A 1984 law that replaced the original law removed general invertebrate protections, but specifically left in place protections for the Trinity bristle snail. The call decision said the logic that allowed a land mollusk to fall under the law should be applied when it comes to bumblebees.

The ruling said the state legislature clearly intended that the use of the definition of fish in the statute, “as a technical term, not be limited solely to aquatic species.”

The move came amid a challenge by a group of farmers to a 2019 decision by the National Fish and Game Commission to consider protecting bees. The commission prohibited anyone from killing them or destroying their habitat during its examination.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to review the appeals court’s decision allows it to become a binding precedent for trial courts across the state. It also removes a hurdle for bumblebees to become the first insect species protected by California law.

“Insects, including bumblebees and other pollinators, are in decline around the world and need all the help they can get,” attorney Jenny Loda of the Center for Food Safety told The Chronicle on Wednesday.

In the deposit declining a review, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote that the decision would likely be misinterpreted.

“This case is not an endorsement (nor a rejection) of the statutory analysis undertaken by the Court of Appeals,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote.

“Yet if experience is any guide, our decision not to order a review will be interpreted by some as an affirmative decision by this court that, under the law, bumblebees are fish,” Cantil-wrote Sakauye.

One of the species, Franklin’s bumblebee, was listed as endangered under federal law last year, and two more are being considered for federal protection.

The California Farm Bureau Federation and other groups had challenged their potential listing under California law. Their attorney, Paul Weiland, said he was disappointed with the state Supreme Court’s decision.

“The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which for years has taken the public stance that insects cannot be listed, is ill-equipped to handle petitions seeking to protect a range of insects that head for him and doesn’t have the budget or the expertise to do it,” Weiland said.

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